On September 12, 2016, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray unveiled his growth plan for the revitalization of the University District. The plan included major zoning changes, including an allowance for 7 story buildings as high as 320 feet in some areas and 240 feet in others. The plan directs growth near the University of Washington Campus and near a new light-rail station set to open in 2021 on Brooklyn Avenue NE between NE 43rd and NE 45th streets.
The Mayor is selling his revitalization plan as a solution to the strains put on Seattle’s rental market due to increased migration to the city in recent years (Zillow currently ranks Seattle as the 9th most popular location searched by people looking to move from outside the area). Under the plan, anywhere from 40 to 275 University District homes would be demolished to create room for 5,000 market rate units and 620 to 910 rent-restricted units. Mayor Murray stated that “this plan is about getting growth right in Seattle,” and connected the University District plan to Seattle’s homelessness crisis, adding that “we simply have to create more affordable housing.”
The Mayor’s revitalization plan has been met with a mixed response. Those against the revitalization plan claim that altering the district will ruin the culture and integrity of the area, and that the increased rents and property taxes will displace residents and small businesses while decreasing the amount of open space in the district. The University of Washington has been pushing for the district to grow into an “innovation district” for tech startups and workers, and those for the plan argue that it provides much needed improvements to the area, including open spaces, child-care, and sidewalk improvements. Those on the pro-side also say that the improvements are necessary if the light-rail station is to be constructed.
It is important to note that the result of the revitalization plan will only be to allow landowners to develop their properties in the manner described above, and will not force anything. As Jason Rantz from KIRO Radio explains, “It won’t irrevocably change anything… if you do this it will impact 1,500 homes… that’s only if every single one of those landowners decide to sell to a developer who plans to go up seven stories or whatever it is, which is not going to happen all at once.” In other words, if you like your property the way it is, you can keep it that way. Under the plan there will be some changes to the U-District landscape, as with many other suburbs of Seattle as we continue to grow to accommodate the many new arrivals to our beautiful city.